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Prescription Painkiller Addiction: 7 Myths

Experts Debunk Myths About Prescription Pain Medication Addiction

5. Myth: All that matters is easing my pain. continued...

"We're focusing on functional restoration when we prescribe analgesics or any intervention to control the patient's pain," says Gharibo.

He explains that functional restoration means "being autonomous, being able to attend to their activities of daily living, as well as forming friendships and an appropriate social environment."

In other words, pain relief isn't enough.

"If there is pain reduction without improved function, that may not be sufficient to continue opioid pharmacotherapy," says Gharibo. "If we're faced with a situation where we continue to increase the doses and we're not getting any functional improvement, we're not just going to go up and up on the dose. We're going to change the plan."

 

6. Myth: I'm a strong person. I won't get addicted.

Reality: Addiction isn't about willpower, and it's not a moral failure. It's a chronic disease, and some people are genetically more vulnerable than others, notes Fishman.

"The main risk factor for addiction is genetic predisposition," Seppala agrees. "Do you have a family history of alcohol or addiction? Or do you have a history yourself and now you're in recovery from that? That genetic history would potentially place you at higher risk of addiction for any substance, and in particular, you should be careful using the opioids for any length of time."

Seppala says prescription painkiller abuse was "rare" when his career began, but is now second only to marijuana in terms of illicit use.

Exactly how many people are addicted to prescription painkillers isn't clear. But 1.7 million people age 12 and older in the U.S. abused or were addicted to pain relievers in 2007, according to government data.  

And in a 2007 government survey, about 57% of people who reported taking pain relievers for "nonmedical" uses in the previous month said they'd gotten pain pills for free from someone they knew; only 18% said they'd gotten it from a doctor.

Don't share prescription pain pills and don't leave them somewhere that people could help themselves. "These are not something that you should hand out to your friends or relatives or leave around so that people can take a few from you without your even noticing it," says Weiss.

7. Myth: My doctor will steer me clear of addiction.

Reality: Doctors certainly don't want their patients to get addicted. But they may not have much training in addiction, or in pain management.

Most doctors don't get much training in either topic, says Seppala. "We've got a naive physician population providing pain care and not knowing much about addiction. That's a bad combination."

Fishman agrees and urges patients to educate themselves about their prescriptions and to work with their doctors. "The best relationships are the ones where you're partnering with your clinicians and exchanging ideas."

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Reviewed on August 10, 2011

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